Spinal cord stimulation, also referred to as SCS, is a procedure that treats chronic pain via a small pulse generator that delivers electrical currents to the spinal cord. These electrical pulses reduce discomfort by interfering with the nerve that is causing you to feel pain. This procedure is usually only employed when other treatments have failed to provide relief.
While spinal cord stimulators are effective for most patients, they are not actually considered a treatment in the traditional sense. Rather, spinal cord stimulation is a tool for managing chronic pain symptoms, allowing the patient to live a more comfortable life that would otherwise be intolerable without intervention. SCS is typically a last resort option for individuals who are no longer eligible for surgery.
What Does a Spinal Cord Stimulator Treat?
As mentioned above, this pain management procedure is only considered when other treatments, including surgery, have failed to improve chronic pain symptoms. A spinal cord stimulator does not actually eliminate the source of the pain, but rather interferes with the signal to the brain that causes the pain response. Therefore, the level of pain relief experienced varies from patient to patient. This procedure can often reduce pain symptoms anywhere from 50 – 70%.
Patients selected for this procedure typically have chronic pain of the back and leg, and have been dealing with the disability for at least a year. A spinal cord stimulator can help control pain symptoms related to the following:
- Chronic leg (sciatica) or arm pain
- Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS)
- Failed back surgery syndrome
- Diabetic neuropathy
- Degenerative disc disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Peripheral vascular disease
- Spinal cord injury
- Nerve root compression
- Spinal stenosis
How Does a Spinal Cord Stimulator Work?
Once a patient has been identified as a candidate for spinal cord stimulation in Austin, the individual will undergo a trial period, wherein a temporary stimulator is implanted during an outpatient visit. These trials typically last around a week, and allow the patient to test out how they respond to the device and how well the stimulation helps manage their pain throughout the day. If the trial is successful, a permanent SCS system can then be implanted.
A surgical procedure is required for placement of the spinal cord stimulator and can take anywhere from 1 – 2 hours to complete. The procedure consists of two phases: placement of the lead in the spinal cord or epidural space and implantation of the pulse generator in the abdomen of buttock. Nothing is visible on the body as the wires are connected under the skin.
Strength and duration of the spinal cord stimulator are controlled by the patient using a handheld programmer. When turned on, the pulse generator sends a current to the nerve fibers through the small wires, replacing the pain sensation with a more pleasant one called paresthesia, often described as a mild tingling sensation.
Schedule a Consultation at the Diagnostic Pain Center
If you have been struggling with chronic pain and would like to learn if you are a candidate for more Austin spinal cord stimulation treatment, please contact our Austin pain doctors today at (512) 981-7246.